By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
They have been staples of the advent season for centuries.
St. Francis of Assissi is credited with staging the first one, complete with live animals, in 1223.
The humble Christmas pageant has survived from the 13th century to the 21st.
The tale of the nativity, the birth of the baby who would save the world, has been brought to life by generations of children the world over.
The beloved story was told again Sunday in a local church. The young actors had no lines, the familiar story being told from the gospel according to Luke, read by a slim young man in a natty bow tie.
Mary was tiny, barefooted, wearing a head scarf and carrying a baby doll nearly as big as she, while Joseph wore a somewhat befuddled expression throughout the proceedings, not to mention his glasses.
One taller and somewhat confused shepherd stuck close to the holy couple, lurking like a bodyguard. The shepherds were properly reverent and awed by the baby in the manger, except for the one who insisted on waving to his parents sitting in one of the pews.
The angels were, well, angelic, a group of beautiful little girls clad all in white with their wings standing out majestically, and mostly straight.
The familiar words rang out across the congregation, losing no impact because of the adolescent tones of the narrator.
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The wise men made their entrance at the proper time, bearing their gifts, their crowns too large for their heads and sliding down around their ears.
Then the children raised their voices in song, mostly, expressing the world’s joy at the miraculous birth.
These were precious children, making priceless memories for their doting parents, who jockeyed to capture the moment with cell phone photos and video.
And as the program drew to an end one couldn’t help but wonder how many angels, shepherds, wise men, Marys and Josephs will be missing from Christmas pageants in Newtown, Conn., this year, and for years to come.
Olivia Engel would have been one of the angels at last weekend’s nativity pageant at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. She would have worn gossamer wings, and her trademark big grin.
But an unthinkable, unimaginable, unfathomable act of senseless violence put an end to her days as an earthly angel. Now she’s the real thing, along with 19 of her classmates and six of her teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
This season of peace and understanding was shattered by the terrible sound of gunfire, this season of hope stained with despair, this season of joy marked by depthless sorrow.
Santa Claus dropped by as the pageant drew to a close, to excited smiles and waves from all in attendance.
One by one he handed out bags of candy to each child, small gifts in a season marking the greatest gift the world has ever received.
How are we to react to the horrors that occurred last week in that small Connecticut hamlet? With shock, sorrow and anger, to be sure, but how do any of those all too natural emotions honor the memories of those who were slain?
Ann Curry, clumsily dismissed from her host role with NBC’s “Today” last year, was among the first reporters on the scene in Newtown.
She has challenged the nation to do acts of kindness to honor the memory of the Newtown victims.
These don’t have to be wide-ranging shows of philanthropy, they can be as simple as holding the door for someone, buying them a cup of coffee or offering to carry a heavy package.
And she is not calling everyone to roam the streets doing good deeds like so many cape-less superheroes, just to seize every opportunity possible to be nice, rather than indifferent, to help rather than to simply walk by.
It is naive to think doing something good for a few people will change the world. It won’t, of course, but it will, for a moment at least, change a couple of lives — that of the person you help, and yours.
In the wake of an incident in which one disturbed person showed absolutely no regard for human life, it behooves us to show an extra measure every chance we get.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.